There’s an old place where people go/ To dance the night away/ They all drive or walk for miles/ To get jive that southern style/ It’s an old jive that makes you want / To dance till break of day…Come on down, forget your care/ Come on down, you’ll find me there/ So long town, I’m heading forTuxedo Junction now (Lyrics from Tuxedo Junction)
For many Birmingham-area blacks in the 1920s – 1940s, Tuxedo Junction, located in the working- class enclave of Ensley, was the place to be. A thriving commercial district for blacks, Tuxedo Junction was located at the intersection of 20th Street and Ensley Avenue, just where the Birmingham, Railway, Light and Power Company trolley lines split. Birmingham native Erskine Hawkins, composer and trumpeter, wanted to capture the district’s energy with his song, “Tuxedo Junction.” The tune later gained in popularity after being recorded by Glenn Miller. Tuxedo Junction didn’t just consist of jive joints and nightclubs; well-to-do businesses took up residence as well. In his study, Downtown Ensley & Tuxedo Junction, David B. Schneider wrote that the Belcher-Nixon Building, which was located in the heart of Tuxedo Junction, contained many black-owned businesses, including the dental office of civil rights leader Dr. John W. Dixon.
The area has suffered serious decline since its heyday. It is now dotted with neglected commercial buildings, but many see hope in the revival. In a Birmingham News article about their book, “Ensley and Tuxedo Junction,” authors David Fleming and Mary Allison Haynie said they wanted the book to serve as a beacon on the importance of Ensley and Tuxedo Junction. The book highlights more than 200 photographs that were mostly culled from area residents. Fleming is a former executive director of Main Street Birmingham, a nonprofit organization that is working to revitalize Ensley, along with other Birmingham-area business districts.
Jerri Haslem also believes Ensley, and Tuxedo Junction, can see better days, and not just in the terms of business renewal but also in improved health of its residents. Haslem, local fitness expert, is organizing the 5K at the Junction, a 3.1 mile race that will start tomorrow, November 10, at the Bethesda Life Center, 321 19th Street Ensley, at 8 a.m., not far from Tuxedo Junction. A one-mile fun walk is also planned. Haslem wanted to bring awareness to the community on issues of health disparities, chronic diseases and obesity. Haslem selected Ensley as the race’s setting because, “it is indeed an underserved community when it comes to health disparities. We hear so many negative things about the Ensley community. Not every community is 100% good or bad,” she said.
Three hundred runners have registered so far. There’s still time to sign up if you want to participate in this historic race. Cost: $20 before race day; $25 day of race. You can go here to register or you can go to The Bethesda Life Center today, now until 6 p.m. to sign up.